The besties speak up for their cul­ture

Woman’s Day (NZ) - - What A Week -

Pop your head into a typ­i­cal dress­ing room on the set of Short land Street and you’ll find cast­mates hang­ing out, learn­ing lines or tak­ing a quick nap.

But there is one room where things are a lit­tle more ex­cit­ing. Best friends, co-stars and room­mates Ngahuia Piripi and Awhimai Fraser are chang­ing things up by only speak­ing to each other in te reo Maori. -

“We’ve bonded over our love of te reo,” ex­plains Ngahuia, 28. “Our love for not just our lan­guage, but the cul­ture, our peo­ple and who we are.”

“It’s not just a lan­guage – it’s a way of liv­ing,” adds Awhimai, 23. “That’s why I love it so much and that’s why it changed my life.”

The self-de­scribed “Girls of Room Three” are on a mis­sion to help nor­malise the use of their na­tive tongue, es­pe­cially dur­ing Maori-Lan­guage Week (Septem­ber 10-16).

Ngahuia, who has played Dr Es­ther Sa­muels on the hit TVNZ 2 drama since 2015, ex­plains, “The stigma is that peo­ple think te reo Maoriis of no use and I just don’t agree with that way of think­ing. It makes us unique and be­ing bilin­gual is ben­e­fi­cial.”

“And it’s one of the of­fi­cial lan­guages of New Zealand!” con­tin­ues Awhimai. When the ac­tress ar­rived on the Shorty set to play nurse Becky Bur­rows ear­lier this year, she was a breath of fresh air, re­calls Ngahuia. “It was so cool hav­ing her speak to me in te reo. She en­cour­aged me to start speak­ing it more.”

And it was just as much of a bless­ing for Awhimai, who felt lim­ited in who she could con­verse with. She smiles, “Be­ing able to prac­tise each day is re­ally spe­cial be­cause my fi­ancé trav­els a lot and he’s al­most the only per­son who I speak to in Maoriev­ery day. So it’s nice com­ing to work know­ing there’s some­one else who I can con­verse with in our na­tive lan­guage.”

Re­mark­ably, un­til re­cently, Awhimai – who is en­gaged to mu­si­cian James Tito of the Modern MaoriQuar­tet – didn’t speak any te reo at all. It was only af­ter a cul­tural ex­change to China that she re­alised the im­por­tance of learn­ing the lan­guage.

Learn­ing curve

“I re­mem­ber say­ing to my fi­ancé, ‘I’m ac­tu­ally ashamed that I can’t trans­late these songs.’ Chi­nese del­e­gates would come up to ask what the songs we were singing meant and I couldn’t ex­plain the lyrics how they de­served to be ex­plained.”

In 2016, Awhimai en­rolled in a full-im­mer­sion Mao­ri­lan­guage course. “It’s prob­a­bly one of the hard­est things I’ll have to do,” she con­fesses. “But it’s 100% the best de­ci­sion of my life so far.”

Un­like her co-star, Ngahuia grew up at­tend­ing a full-im­mer­sion school, but she ad­mits her real love for her cul­ture came through years of kapa haka – some­thing her mother did too, de­spite not speak­ing te reo.

“She can say a few sen­tences here and there, but she isn’t flu­ent,” says Ngahuia, adding that nor­mal­is­ing Maoriis about mak­ing it more present in ev­ery­day life, even if it is just drop­ping the odd word in.

She and Awhimai have even brought te reo into their work­place, in­tro­duc­ing a word of the day on Shorty’s com­mu­nal white­board, and their cast­mates have been ex­tremely sup­port­ive.

“We’re now in a time where speak­ing Maoriis cool – not just for Maori,but for ev­ery­one in New Zealand,” says Ngahuia proudly.

Awhimai adds, “You don’t have to be Maorito learn

- Maori. Just give it a go. You never know where it might take you!”

Cul­tur­ally cool Ngahuia and Awhimai are on a mis­sion to nor­malise the use of te reo. “Just give it a go!”

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